Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Fearful Christians (And The Damage They Do)...

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One open secret of elections is that people very often aren’t voting for a candidate but against another candidate. They aren’t putting someone in office, but keeping someone else out.

Another open secret of elections is that people often vote out of insecurity and fear- fears for their incomes, jobs, savings, for their children’s futures, that they’ll be worse off under another candidate’s regime…

Finally, there’s the open secret that the fear many people vote from are unfounded or irrational- that the government is plotting to make your religion illegal, allowing immigrants to ‘pour’ into the country, will make owning a gun illegal, founded and funds foreign terrorist groups…

What makes fear so destructive to democracy and social stability is that it’s by its very nature irrational. Unlike someone exercising caution, sober-mindedness, risk assessment, and carefulness, a fearful person is usually uninformed (working without good information) and/or selfish (obsessed with their own safety or desires without attention to others’).

Fear often leads to overreaction- impulsive, knee-jerk action- or, conversely, paralysis- the inability to make good decisions or implement important activity.

Out of fear that our children might take drugs, we’ve ended up creating a multi-billion dollar prison infrastructure and incarcerating millions of nonviolent offenders as part of our ‘war on drugs’;

Out of fear of ‘terrorism’, we’ve severely curtailed the civil liberties of millions, illegally ‘profiled’ certain ethnic groups, cultures, and religions, and waged undeclared war on huge swathes of the globe, raining entire regions with drone strikes and bombing campaigns;

Out of fear for personal safety (and property values), we’ve militarized our police forces, criminalized the homeless, and reinforced structural racism in our courts, prison systems, and grand juries.

Much reporting and analysis during this election has focused on the fears of many Americans, and one group of Americans has stood out- Christians.

This election has been in the thrall of fearful Christians. A quick google search yielded me a whole page of headlines about fearful Christians- 

Christians who fear the loss of their guns; 

who fear Christianity is slowly becoming illegal; 

who fear the presence of Muslims and other faiths openly expressing themselves in their towns; 

who fear that LGBT people are destroying America; 

who fear Common Core curricula is poisoning their children...

The tragedy for me, as a theologian, is that this shows the extent to which so much American Christianity- of every denomination- is disconnected with theological reflection and the biblical text.

The biblical text is rife with exhortations to have no fear of anything. The righteous are not to worry or be anxious. The Hebrew book of Proverbs, the Psalms- and for certain denominations, the Book of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon- in dozens of instances all stress clear-thinking, wisdom, and sober-mindedness.

For Christians, Jesus on numerous occasions told his disciples not to fear what was going on, as well as to love their enemies, not fear them.

It is vital to remember, however, that we are not to be indifferent, nor are we to think that nothing really matters, that all situations are equal, or that we are not to care what happens.

Rather, whatever is going on around us, we are to actively pursue, as Jesus did, the Kingdom of God- peace, justice, and kindness;

We are to declare, as Jesus did, the year of God’s favour, not his wrath and his judgement;

We are to declare and live out, as Jesus did, the Good News of the Gospel- food for the poor, sight to the blind, release to the prisoners, freedom for the captives, life for the lifeless, a voice for the voiceless;

But what if, many argue, we feel legislated against? What if they legalize what we hold to be sin? What if they allow what we see as disgusting?  What about creating godly courts and governments?

St. Paul, writing to Christians who were often socially disadvantaged, looked down upon, or legislated against, never told his readers to be fearful of the future or strike back out of fear:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).

Whatever happens, love one another; do what is right; live peaceably with your neighbours; keep your head. There’s no law against that…

When was the last time in this election season you heard a Christian priest, pastor, or politician say that?

What if, many argue, the situation is serious, even grave? What if we’re attacked? What if cataclysm falls upon us? What if the Antichrist appears? What if our enemies destroy what we hold sacred?

As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  Jesus answered them, “Watch out that no one misleads you.  For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many.  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these things are the beginning of birth pains… So when you see the abomination of desolation—spoken about by Daniel the prophet—standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains (Matt. 24:1-8,15-16).

Armies will march; persecution will come; God’s Temple will be destroyed…   But make sure you are not alarmed; this isn’t the end of the world; God has not abandoned us… No need to fight; no need to form a resistance; just run, run away, save yourself, save your family; love God and your neighbour...

When was the last time in this election season you heard a Christian priest, pastor, or politician say that?

Socially, fear- and fearmongering- never nurtures democracy. It never builds social capital. It is never the foundation stone of beneficial public policy.

Theologically, fear- and fearmongering- is never described as a good or healthy spiritual trait. It is warned against in hundreds of passages in the biblical text. It is antithetical to the person and message of Jesus as he is described in the Gospels.

It is because of fear, scare tactics, and lowest-common-denominator fearmongering that we stand on a social and democratic precipice- and the fear of many Christians has played no small part in bringing us to this point. 

Those Christian leaders, clergy, the Christian politicians they prop up, and the ordinary Christians posting to Facebook and Twitter who have sown so much fear into the hearts and minds of their congregations, constituencies, and friends have done them, the country as a whole, and American democracy an enormous disservice.

For that, we must all repent…

… And model something very different. 

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